The Problem With Little Girls & Dance Lessons

ballet classI never thought I would actually have a girl. With years of infertility both before and after my first child was born, I became resigned to the fact that my son would be an only child. Of course, then I became pregnant, which was only slightly more shocking than when the doctor told us the sex of the baby.

My first thought when he said those magical words, "It's a girl," were: Dance lessons! I grew up dancing and love the art for so many reasons. My dreams of tutus, ballet slippers, and recitals that I'd long since cast aside were suddenly on the horizon again.

And now, three years later, my daughter has started her first dance class. Each Tuesday when we enter the studio I get a little teary seeing her dance (or run if we're being honest) across the dance studio floor in her saggy little pink tights, black leotard, and impossibly messy bun. But it also gives me nightmares.


Dance is a slippery slope when it comes to little girls, and if you need any evidence of the downside, just watch an episode of Dance Moms. As bad if not worse than Toddlers & Tiaras, it shows exactly what I fear dance has become about for too many little girls -- skimpy costumes, heavy makeup, and way-too-sexualized moves.

I'm no prude, and I don't expect them to do "On the Good Ship Lollipop," (Which I did in 8th grade, thank you very much), but too often today I've seen little dancers looking like they should have a show in Vegas, and that's not okay.

Katherine Hiegl recently wrote a blog post on iVillage about her reaction to the show and her own fears for her 3-year-old daughter, Naleigh, which are similar to mine.

It terrifies me, the amount of value we place on a woman’s looks, body, and ability to drop it like it’s hot on the dancefloor. It’s one thing to walk into a club and see twentysomethings embracing their sexuality and having some fun, but it’s another thing altogether watching seven-year-olds shake their booties, bellies, and nonexistent boobies on a stage in a room full of adults and be handed a trophy for it. What in the world are we telling them? That sexy is the prize and is the talent they have?

Of course the show picks extreme examples, and there are plenty of dance studios who would never allow such things, which I will seek out if dance is something my daughter chooses to stick with over the years. But I've also seen how some of the less-than-desirable aspects of dance creep up on moms with older daughters. Not to the extreme of Dance Moms perhaps, but in the dance routines that begin to raise eyebrow a little at a time, the bare midriffs that are "part of the show," and the provocative music that permeates our society.

Over time -- maybe without parents even noticing it  or maybe because they just get exhausted from fighting it-- it  just continues to push that line between art and expression and something that little girls just shouldn't be doing. Not just because it makes us uncomfortable, but because of the message it sends to them about what entertainment is and what their value is as a woman.

Dance should be healthy both emotionally and physically for little girls. It can be a beautiful art and means of expression, but it's up to us as parents to make sure that's what it is for our daughters. It would be nice if we got a little more support from the rest of society along the way, but we certainly can't count on it.

As Heigl concluded in her blog:

We will have to find a way to convince our children that what they see in the world around them is not always right and true even when it’s far more prevalent than what we tell them is right and true. We will have to hope, pray, and beg them to trust us and commit every moment to earning their trust so that we can ensure their emotional, spiritual, and physical well being and self-worth.

Let the dance begin.  

Do you worry about dance lessons and your daughter?

Image via tiarescott/Flickr

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